Canada’s National Senior Men’s team put the disappointment of last weekend’s defeat to Samoa behind itself with a convincing 35-3 win over Russia in an International Rugby Board series fixture on Saturday (Nov. 17).
The final score didn’t tell the full story, however, as a defensive rearguard action kept Russia at bay for the final 20 minutes of the pulsating match.
Head coach Kieran Crowley was pleased that his team disregarded the loss of last week: “The defensive side of our game in the final period was outstanding. We’re very pleased with the win, and we scored some good tries, and to keep the other team tryless was a good performance.”
Jeff Hassler, making his first start for the NSMT, put in a man-of-the-match performance, with two tries, and an assist for Taylor Paris.
“There was no doubt in my mind that I could make an impact,” said Hassler. His first try was a race of 80 metres from his own 22 metre line and he praised his teammates Harry Jones and Eric Wilson for setting him up.
Knowing that a good result was needed after that demoralizing loss to Samoa, Canada raced out of the blocks, and took the game to Russia. James Pritchard kicked his first penalty after four minutes, before Russian fullback Igor Klyuchnikov replied five minutes later.
Canada spent a long period inside the Russian half before the Russians pressurized. But they lost possession just inside Canada’s 22, with Eric Wilson turning over the ball, and passing to Harry Jones, who fed Hassler for his tremendous run down the line for the first of his brace of tries.
Pritchard converted before kicking another penalty five minutes before half-time. With the gap 16-3 at the break, Russia was able to threaten, making a couple of breaks before the whistle, but Ciaran Hearn was the man in the right place to stop the attack.
The second half began with a Canadian onslaught. Taylor Paris dotted between the posts, but that was only for the brilliance of Jeff Hassler. The winger caught a high kick on his 22 metre line, and, while facing his own line, turned through a tackle before racing deep into Russian territory before playing the ball to Paris who did the rest.
Nick Blevins scored three minutes later, diving over after a charged-down Russian kick. Pritchard converted both tries for a 30-3 lead. The final score of the night came as Hassler scored his second on 59. A run from halfway to beat three men, saw him go over in the corner, and put the finishing touch to a night of magic for the Canadians.
With 20 minutes to go though, the game wasn’t finished, and it was the turn of the defensive side of the team to shine, as Russia laid siege to the Canadian line for the rest of the game.
The defensive red line led to Crowley’s praise afterwards as he saw his side keep Russia at bay, leaving them with only a solitary penalty goal for their efforts.
Jones was pleased to gain his first cap: “It was one of my dreams to have played for the national team. I’ve done it for the sevens, but to do it for the fifteens is the real deal, so I’m really excited about it,” he said.
His appearance, though, was cut short: “I had just come back from a hamstring injury, and it was feeling pretty good, but I felt it in a tackle pretty early. I was a bit stubborn as it was my first cap so I tried to stay on for ten minutes.”
Talking about his part in the first try, he only had to say: “It was just simple hands really, I didn’t do too much, as Jeff had some pretty good pace.”
Canada moved on to Oxford for the final match of the Fall Tour, as they take on the New Zealand Maori on Friday (Nov. 23).